Rays-Astros Preview

The Houston Astros have been a dominant home team over the past six-plus weeks.

Scott Kazmir’s only start there since joining them could also be described that way.

Kazmir tries to avoid his first three-start losing streak in five years Monday night when the Astros open a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Eager to erase the memory of a 2-7 trip, the Astros did a good job of that by taking three of four at home from Detroit this weekend. They rebounded from Saturday’s 4-2, 11-inning loss with a 6-5 walkoff victory Sunday on Jose Altuve’s two-out single.

Colby Rasmus hit a pair of homers and Altuve finished with three hits to help Houston (64-54) improve to a major league-best 16-3 at home since June 28.

"Every time you do something for your team and you win you’re going to feel good. You’re going to enjoy it," said Altuve, batting .391 in his last five at home. "Especially in the moment that we’re living right now where we’re in first place and we have to win."

During that 19-game span at Minute Maid Park, the Astros are batting .282 and averaging 5.5 runs while totaling 31 homers. They’ve also compiled a 2.53 ERA, with the starters posting a 1.55 mark in the past eight games.

Houston will try to extend its AL West lead behind Kazmir (6-7, 2.12 ERA), who ranks second in the AL in ERA and is tied for second with a .210 opponent batting average.

The left-hander hasn’t missed a beat since coming over in a trade with Oakland, posting a 1.04 ERA in four starts. He’s only 1-2 in those games, however, since he’s twice received zero run support.

Kazmir was brilliant in his only home start of those four, allowing three hits over 7 2-3 innings against the Los Angeles Angels. He left with the game scoreless before Houston pushed across three in the ninth for a 3-0 victory.

He’s lost his last two starts – both on the road – despite giving up only three earned runs over 11 1-3 innings. He committed two throwing errors and was outpitched by Madison Bumgarner in Tuesday’s 3-1 defeat at San Francisco.

Kazmir, who last lost three consecutive starts Aug. 23-Sept. 3, 2010, yielded three runs and eight hits over 5 2-3 innings in a 5-2 loss at Tampa Bay on May 22.

Asdrubal Cabrera enters as the Rays’ hottest hitter, batting .475 with 11 extra-base hits in 16 games since returning from the disabled list. Cabrera, though, is 1 for 15 against Kazmir.

Tampa Bay (58-59) was swept in a three-game series at Texas this weekend after falling 5-3 on Sunday. The Rays batted .315 in the three losses but that was offset by a 7.88 ERA from a pitching staff that surrendered seven homers and 11 walks.

"We ran into a pretty hot team," manager Kevin Cash said.

The last Tampa Bay pitcher to record a quality start was Erasmo Ramirez (9-4, 3.59), who was outstanding in a 2-0 win Tuesday over Atlanta.

After posting a 5.12 ERA in his three previous outings, Ramirez gave up five hits and needed only 70 pitches to get through seven-plus innings.

"I just feel like everything is working," Ramirez said. "It’s been great to have that feeling."

The right-hander has pitched 12 straight scoreless innings since allowing five in the first against the Chicago White Sox on Aug. 5. He’s 9-3 in 15 starts since moving into the rotation on May 14, tied for the most wins in the AL during that span.

One of those victories was a 3-1 result against the Astros on July 10, when he yielded one run in six innings.